International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean   

Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
Issue: 13/2006- 12/2006 - 11/2005 - 10/2005 - 9/2004 - 8/2003 - 7/2003 - 6/2002 - 5/2002 - 4/2001- 3/2001

In the Spotlight: Moutain Areas


The Andean Corridor: Intervention Strategies and Policies for Risk Reduction and Sustainable Development
Nelly Gray de Cerdán(1)

MERCOSUR, the economic union of the Southern Cone countries that began in 1995,1 faces among many other challenges the need to find cost-effective ways of using Chile’s Pacific Ocean ports as a link to East Asia and the Western ports of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) countries. But the geomorphologic structure of South America conspires against this objective.

As the spinal column of the continental divide, the Andes offer very few East-West passages, increasing both the risks and the costs of trade. Other than Chile, which lies west of the mountain rage, Southern Cone countries have historically tended to ship their exports from the Atlantic—which was satisfactory only when Europe and Eastern North America were their main markets. Incorporating the Andes into the regional development process is thus a strategic political and economic objective for ensuring the development of MERCOSUR, given the importance of Pacific Rim markets.

With the launch of MERCOSUR, the most accessible East-West passages became true bottlenecks, very difficult to manage due to the rapid increase of overland shipping2 and the inability of the regional alliance to build the infrastructure and provide the maintenance needed to counter Nature’s hostility in the dangerous mountain passes.
The increase in land transport, without adequate services and with deficient road networks, also increased the risks posed by natural hazards, as well as the vulnerability of mountain residents and the safety of trade flows. Such hazards would increase every winter, when road closures due to snow-storms or landslides would sometimes extend over 10 days or more, with no alternative route for the merchandise already in transit, costing the business sector millions in losses.

At present, most East-West MERCOSUR trade—70%—goes through what is called the Central Bi-oceanic Corridor. Its Andean section, called the Andean Corridor or the Cristo Redentor-Libertadores Corridor, links the north of Mendoza Province, Argentina, with the Valparaiso region of Chile. It is the only mountain pass with the infrastructure and services needed to handle such trade volume, and is of strategic importance for the flow of goods and services between the Atlantic and the Pacific.

In such circumstances, land use management and risk management policies play a key role in reducing marginal costs and risks and improving the safety and reliability of the Corridor.

Land use management policies in the Andean Corridor

Improving the infrastructure of the Andean Corridor and adopting newer and more effective technologies, indispensable tasks for ensuring the competitiveness of the Andean trading block, have become the joint responsibility of the governments of the Chilean Fifth Region (Valparaiso), the Metropolitan Region of Chile, the Argentinean federal government and Mendoza province, with a strong role by private companies that see the Corridor as a key growth opportunity.

In this context, the Ministry of the Environment and Public Works of Argentina, through the Environmental Management and Urban Development Directorate of the Under-secretariat for the Environment, agreed upon an action plan based on the following goals:

  1. Improving the interdisciplinary capacity of the institution’s human resources to engage in land use management and preventive risk management of the Andean Corridor.
  2. Building institutional capacity in the area.
  3. Strengthening a regional approach to the Andean Corridor in order to promote international cooperation for the risk management and effective operation of the Corridor.

In parallel, the Ministry launched an Andean Corridor Land Use and Risk Management Project. The plan is currently under development and will cover the section between Álvarez Condarco and Las Cuevas in Argentinean territory.

The Project includes specific sub-projects aimed at promoting the development of the area, reducing costs, increasing safety margins and reducing the risk of natural disasters. The overall goal is to ensure the coordinated and efficient management of resources to guarantee the sustainability of the Corridor and its trade in the new international context.

The sub-project are the following:

• Land use management of the Potrerillos-Cacheuta-Álvarez Condarco section.
• Land use management and risk management of the Inca Bridge area.
• Land use management of Uspallata.
• Land use management and risk management of the High Mountain area.
• Support for the project to rehabilitate the Trans-Andean railroad.

As well, the government of Mendoza has begun intensely coordinating its actions with those of the government of the Fifth Region of Chile through bilateral protocols.

For more information, please contact:
Nelly Gray de Cerdán
Director of the Centre for MERCOSUR
Territorial Strategies of Cuyo National University,
Mendoza, Argentina.

  1. MERCOSUR currently comprises Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.
  2. The Cristo Redentor-Los Libertadores pass, which links Argentina and Chile, historically served a region of some two million inhabitants. Alter Mercosur was established, it became a trade route serving a block of 200 million people.
Final Thoughts

The Andean Corridor experience has once again taught us the lesson that the environmental fragility of high mountain regions in the face of human habitation calls for the greatest creativity and control over the environmental processes unleashed by society, particularly when they involve highly dynamic economic activities such as the transport of merchandise aimed at international markets.

The inability to date by MERCOSUR countries to maintain and improve such a crucial and yet hazardous trade route calls for a carefully coordinated and integrated approach. Territorial management, understood as the combination of land use management plans and risk management for disaster prevention, is the right tool for developing the strategies and policies needed to reduce risk and promote development.

Several weaknesses must still be overcome:

  • Territorial management has not yet been fully incorporated into MERCOSUR integration efforts. This excludes mountain trades corridors from regional development plans. The lack of territorial management plans is, in fact, a key institutional vulnerability of the trade block.
  • Disaster managers and professionals in the region still tend to focus on emergency management rather than risk management, which involves disaster prevention, mitigation and awareness-raising components.
  • Local governments are the ones best suited to promote the development of mountain areas, but they are also the weakest from a financial, legal, professional and technological standpoint. This must be addressed promptly and decisively.

Finally, it may be necessary to review the planning units that are currently in use, and perhaps restore some concepts that have been partially abandoned over the years. One of them is the development, planning and management of river basins. Such an approach might be useful, given that most of the available mountain passes that can serve as trade corridors have been created over geological time by complex river systems. Basin management might be the right approach to bring together land use management and risk management. But this is a pending issue for discussion among those interested in strategic and policy planning.